September 2015
Homeplace & Community

Agricultural Mission: Belize

 
Tracey and Paul Sims thought they were living the American Dream until they travelled to a small mountain village in Belize and found the true meaning of life.  

Tracey and Paul Sims were living the American Dream! Their children were grown, they both had good jobs, they had bought a small farm, and now they were able do some things they had always hoped to do. But for the Simses, something was missing. Their search to find answers would take them on a mission trip to New Mexico. While there, the Simses made the decision to commit their lives to full-time ministry. However, even after their decision, they were still perplexed. Where were they supposed to go? And what kind of ministry were they being led to start?

A year later, while on a mission trip to Belize, they found the final piece of their puzzle. They met a man who had served as a minister for 17 years in the tiny village of Progresso. His name was Maurisio Sedacy and he had been praying for God to send someone to help him. Sedacy longed to minister full time in his church, but, because he had to support his 14 family members, he was forced to travel many miles to the thriving resort area to work three weeks out of the month. When the Simses heard other parts of his miraculous life story, they felt a need to return to Belize to help him.

The Simses sold their small farm and paid their own way to Belize. Although they were not sponsored by any Mission Board, they did stay with a missionary couple in San Lazero until they could build a home in Progresso. Each day, the couple travelled 30 difficult miles to Progresso to work on their home. Gas at that time was $6 a gallon in Belize.

"It was the rainy season, the roads were bad and, many times, we could hardly get to Progresso," Paul explained, "but this was what we were supposed to do, and God provided a way."

 
  Paul Sims uses his tractor to help remove rocks from a field cleared for planting. The tractor has proved to be invaluable, as rock removal takes months when done by hand.

Building their own home would open many doors for Paul to use his carpentry skills to help some young men in the village who wanted to work. He showed the workers how to use his tools, measure and cut the boards so they would be straight. This was hands-on learning for the young men, who were eager to gain a skill. Paul even constructed his own water storage system and used a formula from the Internet to purify the water for drinking.

Belize is known for its beautiful beaches and luxurious resorts on the coast. Farther inland, life is very different in the remote villages. The men often have to leave their homes and travel to other areas for jobs because the meager amounts made from farming cannot sustain a family.

Paul recognized immediately that he could help the villagers with farming. One of the most difficult jobs for these farmers is clearing the rocky land for planting. In Progresso, clearing can often take more than three years. After cutting the trees, the foliage must be dried and burned. Then, the villagers pick up the thousands of rocks by hand. These sharp flint rocks, similar to the ones used by the Mayans to make weapons, are found everywhere. The rocks damage tires and cut the feet of barefooted children working in the fields.

 
Paul Sims drops a “bucket” into the well for fresh water. Paul designed and built this water system. He also found a formula for purification on the Internet and made his own purification system.  He was careful to teach his techniques to the young villagers who helped him.  

Fortunately, Paul had shipped his tractor, bush hog, plows, tools and other farming implements to Belize. The tractor has proved to be an invaluable tool, especially with rock removal. Paul has also used the tractor to bush hog for the school and community, as well as lifting residents to pick coconuts.

Farmers plant mainly corn and beans. The corn is either white or yellow, and red and black beans are a staple. Their planting techniques resemble those used in early America. Everything is done by hand because the villagers do not have modern equipment. All family members help with planting. Older members use a stick to poke holes in the ground, and children drop seeds, held in Clorox jugs that have been cut in half. Farmers never cover their seeds. Instead, they wait for the rains to come and wash soil over the seeds. Also, crop rows are never straight.

Belize has a year-round growing season. Even though the rainy season runs from June until December, planting is done during the dry season because the market is better. Since there is very little rain during the dry season, farmers have to irrigate. This means a well must be drilled through the hard flint rocks to provide water for the crops.

With the help of a nearby Mennonite Community, Paul has helped drill two wells for irrigation. The Mennonites use an older drill that drives and beats through the rocks. The process is slow and labor intensive. Sims now has plans to build an above-ground tank for water storage. He will also construct a gravity-fed, drip irrigation system.

Chickens are another important food source for the villagers. For years, Paul had hatched and raised poultry as a hobby. To increase production, he bought an incubator and taught some of the villagers how to use it. He is now trying to get more incubators donated so the villagers can increase production and profits.

In addition to farming and carpentry, Paul has taught welding and mechanics to many young men in the village. Most have only an eighth-grade education, so learning a practical skill helps them to be able to make a living for themselves and their families. Some of these young men are now studying to become church leaders.

Even though the villagers raise sugar cane, the Simses noticed the cane growers do not make syrup. These growers take the cane many miles away to a refinery that makes sugar and rum. Paul decided that teaching the villagers to make syrup and sell cane could be another source of food and income. While the Simses were in the United States, someone gave Paul an older cane mill; however, the bearings were so stripped, he has been unable to get it to work. He now hopes that someone will donate a workable mill, so he can teach villagers to extract and sell juice, as well as make syrup and various other syrup-related products. This would add still another cottage industry to the village.

Tracey has been just as involved as her husband. She works in a women’s ministry that includes widows who have children and abandoned mothers who get no government assistance. Tracey has helped the women find crafts they can make and sell to help support their families. One of her ministries involves crocheting. One young woman, who was quite skilled in crocheting, helped to teach the others. Tracey showed the women how to make goods that would be more desirable to customers in the United States. For example, purses, bracelets, key chains, headbands, ponytail holders and flower rosettes were quick-selling items. Tracey convinced the women to use Alabama and Auburn colors, as well as colors of local high schools around Thomasville. When the Simses returned to the United States in June, they quickly sold the popular products and distributed the profits to the craftswomen.

"For these young women, that money can be the difference between their baby having milk or their children having food," Tracey explained. "They are hardworking people, but they do not know how to market their goods. Some are very skilled at their crafts, but they just need a helping hand."

This small cottage industry has proven to be very successful for the women.

Tracey also works with puppet ministries and church drama presentations. She writes, produces and directs church productions while sewing the costumes and scavenging thrift stores for usable clothing. She also helps with the music and conducts Bible schools in Progresso and San Lazero. Often, the Simses will have over 150 children coming to their summer youth programs.

Belize is the only Central American country where English is the official language, but residents speak a mixture of Creole and Spanish. The Simses are still working on their language skills.

"Not being able to speak the language makes the simplest task so difficult," Paul explained.

The Simses have been called on to work in many community and school activities in Progresso. They often take sick people to doctors who are many miles away. On numerous occasions, Paul has used his vehicle as an ambulance.

Now that they are sponsored by the Methodist Protestant Church, the Simses plan to stay four years.

"Our goals are to teach, to show and to equip the people to do everything for themselves," Paul stated. "We want to prepare them so we can turn everything over to them."

Tracey says that she has learned so much from her experiences.

"I have learned that everything is for a season," she said. "It has taught me patience, but going to a foreign country has also taught me to appreciate things I took for granted before."

In their search to find true meaning in life, Paul and Tracey Sims found a renewed sense of purpose in a small mountain village in Belize. But in their journey, they strengthened their faith and gained an even greater understanding of what the American Dream really is.

"People don’t realize how great this country is until you live outside of it," Paul explained. "These people have so little, yet they are so grateful for anything, no matter how small it is."

You can contact the Simses at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. To help the Simses in their ministries (please specify the ministry): "Paul and Tracey Sims’s Progresso Agricultural Project" or "Paul and Tracey Sims’s Woman’s Ministry," 31 Cammock Drive, Grove Hill, AL 36451.

Carolyn Drinkard is a freelance writer from Thomasville.